The Judge
Director: David Dobkin
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga
141 mins; Class15;
KRS Releasing Ltd

The Judge is one of those films that are better than they should be, purely on the strength of the uniformly strong cast led by Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, who overcome a feeble script and thin characterisation with engaging and committed performances.

Downey Jr stars as hotshot big-city lawyer Hank Palmer, who reluctantly returns to his childhood home on the news of his mother’s death.

He becomes more entangled with his estranged family than he desires, when his father, the town’s respected long-serving judge Joseph (Duvall), is involved in a car accident that leaves a man dead.

Despite his misgivings, Hank stays on to defend him, while dealing with his two brothers Glen and Dale (Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong) and reconnecting with childhood sweetheart Samantha Powell (Vera Farmiga).

There are the makings of a good, old-fashioned family drama here, but the film is bogged down by cliché and predictability that permeate the script.

While the story is solid, it only scratches the surface

For while the story is solid, it only scratches the surface of the multiple strands it consists of.

We are presented with past events through various moments of exposition, but not given the emotional depth needed for us to get more involved.

There are some moments where the story hits the nail on the head. Those of us who have dealt with aging parents at any point will identify with the role reversal Hank finds himself in, as he finds himself not only defending Joseph in court but caring for him at home, despite the latter’s violent objections.

A scene where Joseph has a bathroom accident is honestly and poignantly played by the actors and had the film captured the essence of that moment and spread it throughout the film, overall the results would have been so much more powerful.

The characters are also very thinly drawn. Some throwaway remarks with an opposing lawyer at the beginning of the film depict Hank as an obnoxious lawyer.

A brief spat with his wife indicates the couple is on the verge of divorce, while some remarks about his non-interest in their daughter Lauren’s life jar with the obvious love Hank has for the kid in scenes they share together later on.

Thank goodness for the faultless performances of the strong ensemble and all involved certainly engage the audience and elevate The Judge to something worth your while.

Incidentally, it is easy to dismiss Downey Jr’s talents, sometimes, as we are so used to seeing him with the cocksureness that characterises his Iron Man stints.

Here, he plays the drama straight and does provide some genuine emotion.

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